John Mitzel: Measure 3 Doesn't Threaten Accreditation

Last week, Dickinson State University student Matthew Perdue submitted a letter expressing his concerns regarding Measure 3, legislation which would replace the existing State Board of Higher Education with a 3-member Commission of Higher Education. While we may share the status of “North Dakota student”, Perdue and I certainly come from different schools of thought when it comes to Measure 3.

Perdue is correct that the governing structure created by Measure 3 would not include a voting student member, but student representation would certainly not be lost. The Commission of Higher Education would be a full-time entity, in contrast to the existing State Board which meets just once a month. Members on the Commission would have the capacity to regularly meet with students from all across the state, learn about their concerns, and personally gather feedback in a way that just isn’t possible with the status quo. Students may not have a formal vote, but their voices would certainly be heard.

Another argument raised by Mr. Perdue was the potential impact Measure 3 could have on the accreditation of our state’s institutions. While it might make for a good sound bite, the argument is simply unsubstantiated beyond a quote from a representative of the Higher Learning Commission who said that Measure 3 “raises questions” about whether we would be in compliance with the commission’s requirements on governance. After conducting extensive research, North Dakota’s Legislative Council was not able to uncover a single instance of a state’s university system losing accreditation due to a change in governance structure. However, at the end of the day Measure 3’s potential impact on accreditation isn’t an issue that can be settled through public debate. It can only be answered by the HLC, who for some reason has yet to issue a definitive statement on the matter.

Why haven’t they? Maybe because they’re more interested in playing politics to protect the status quo than they are in helping voters make an informed decision. If accreditation is truly threatened by Measure 3, than the Higher Learning Commission has an obligation to inform North Dakotans.

At the end of the day, the reality is that the State Board of Higher Education created by our constitution was never intended to preside over the enormous system we have today. They’re tasked with approving things from new construction projects to multi-million dollar budgets and increases in tuition. It’s impossible to critically examine and deliberate over all of these requests in just a few hours a month. That means dramatic increases in spending and bloated university budgets. Sound familiar?

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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